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Canadian Elections

What We Learned From The 2021 Canadian Federal Election

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Lessons Learned - 2021 Canadian Federal Election

The 2021 Canadian Federal Election is in the books, and the Liberals have won for the third time in six years.

With that said, we have already learned that it’s likely we will be doing this all again soon. Let’s say about two years from now, plus or minus a few months. You can reference Electionarium’s Summer 2021 video on the lifespan of minority governments for further clarification.

Indeed, it was a minority government for Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party, just like in 2019. In fact, the 2021 Canadian federal election results are close enough to the 2019 results that it has a number of people in Canada wondering why there was a poll at all. Trudeau is three-for-three in elections contested as Liberal leader, but one-for-three on claiming majorities. His only one so far was in 2015, an earthquake victory after nearly a decade of Conservative rule.

There are always pieces to be picked up after a federal poll. Who has to pick up the most, and what are some of the lessons to be learned?

Lesson 1: The Liberals Were Lucky To Win The 2021 Canadian Federal Election

A few weeks before the election, the Liberals trailed the Conservatives by enough of a margin that a CPC minority government was in play. Though a strong closing, starting around debate time, saved the Liberals, they should count their lucky stars to still be in power.

In 2015, either the NDP or Liberals were going to win that election, thanks to Harper government fatigue. Had Jack Layton lived, it may have been him who did it. Sadly for the NDP, he hadn’t, so he didn’t. Some would say Trudeau squandered some of that first term with a series of scandals, from SNC-Lavalin to the WE Charity affair and the Aga Khan incident. This directly contributed to a loss of Liberal seats in 2019 that cost them their majority. At times, it looked iffy that they would win that election two years ago.

Now, Andrew Scheer was no political force of nature, and neither is Erin O’Toole. A guy with the brand name and stage presence of Justin Trudeau shouldn’t be scrapping to squeak out a win with B-list Tory leaders. In fact, the Liberals lost the popular vote again to the CPC, this time by more, but their vote was far more efficient than the Conservatives. We might be having a different conversation today if the People’s Party didn’t catch fire and scoop up disaffected CPC voters. It’s said that it’s better to be lucky than good, and Trudeau is fortunate that the snap election call during the pandemic did not backfire on him.

Lesson 2: The Conservatives’ Problems Are As Deep As We Thought

Today, the Conservatives may be patting themselves on the back for winning the popular vote and holding the Liberals to another minority. If you’re into moral victories, there are two right there, but Erin O’Toole will still be sitting on the same side of the mace in the new Parliament.

The People’s Party bled off just enough votes to keep them from increasing their seat count. The GTA was once again solid red. Finally, Conservatives are upset and some are angling for another change in the leadership. O’Toole will not be able to silence those critics so easily. In general, you lose an election and you’re out, unless there are no better options (the case for Rachel Notley in Alberta, who may yet be premier again). The Conservatives made minimal progress, if one wants to call it that. Enough for him to keep his job? Who is to say, but not everyone in the CPC tent is happy. They were not before, either, as some voters didn’t stay in the tent at all.

Here’s the issue for people who are unhappy with O’Toole and the direction of the Conservatives: it’s another minority government. We are probably doing this all over again in 2023 and Canadian leadership races tend to be long. Another CPC leader will have about the same turnaround time that O’Toole did before the next election. The Conservatives would do well to replace their leader only if they can get more of a sure thing like Rona Ambrose, but she didn’t run last time and who is to say she would run now?

There is no quick fix here for the CPC, and they may not have a lot of time to lay groundwork before we see another election.

Lesson 3: If You’re The NDP, The Liberals Succeeding Is Bad For Business, But It Goes Beyond That

The NDP failed to reach expectations in the 2021 Canadian federal election, coming in with 17.7 percent of the vote and 25 seats. Some polling prior to election day had them over 20 percent and well into the 30s in seats. Tactical voting is a cruel mistress to the NDP, and it’s taken them out again. You may recall that the NDP’s best-ever election result was an historically terrible one for the Liberals; the electoral roles were reversed.

It is going to be difficult for the NDP to make respectable gains as long as the Liberals and CPC are in competitive elections. Some potential NDP voters will hold their noses and vote Liberal to keep the Conservatives out. They don’t want to be the voters to put the CPC over the top and into government. Other voters are content to stick with what they know – the Trudeau Liberals.

The landscape for the NDP on election night was disappointing, but it was not just because of tactical voting. NDP candidates failed in seats they could have taken off of the Conservatives as well, like Saskatoon West, Kenora, and Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge, to name a few. Other NDP candidates like in St. John’s East got straight-up beat despite being known in the community. These were ridings where if the NDP vote held together as predicted, they very well could have won.

The pieces were all there for the NDP but they put none of them together. Does Jagmeet Singh have to answer for it? Some will say yes, but one thing is clear: either the polls were wrong, or the NDP did a poor job converting that into votes.

Lesson 4: The Bloc Quebecois Isn’t What It Used To Be, But It’s Still Formidable

Are the days of the Bloc Quebecois winning 50 seats in Quebec gone? For now, yes. Are they still a major force in Quebec politics? For certain. Despite a dip in the polls most of the campaign, the Bloc came back and gained seats on election night. Those 34 seats helped prevent a Liberal majority. If the Bloc vote crumbled as predicted early on and they won, say, 20 seats, most would have gone to the Liberals, and we’d be looking at this election differently.

At the provincial level, the Parti Quebecois is a long way from government. However, on the federal level in Quebec, the BQ is once again the dominant force. The Conservatives, federalist though they may be, are probably pleased that the Liberals could not break down that particular blue wall, even though the Bloc hurt them in a few places as well.

Lesson 5: The Green Party Needs To Take A Long, Difficult Look At Itself

Don’t let the Kitchener result fool you: this election was a disaster for the Green Party and Annamie Paul. Under Elizabeth May in 2019, they won three seats and 6.55 percent of the vote. In 2021 under Paul, it was two seats and 2.3 percent of the vote. They were a non-factor in all but about three ridings. Mike Morrice’s win in Kitchener Centre is not surprising in that he almost won last time, so there is a personal vote in play. Other than that, the Greens have nothing to show for their 2021 election but a lot of headaches.

Was Elizabeth May the glue that held the Greens together? Well, we saw what happened after she left. The party went off-track and never gained footing. They were not a serious contender. It may be some time until they are making waves again. Paul’s leadership is as good as over, but who can step up to the plate? That’s their other problem, and it’s a big one. It’s a choice that must be made carefully if they are to survive and later thrive.

Lesson 6: The People’s Party May Never Win A Seat, But They Have Multiple Goals

Maxime Bernier’s heart does not swell with love and respect for the Conservative Party. They shunned him for the leadership, he and Andrew Scheer butted heads, and then he took his ball and went home. Bernier’s new party exists as a vehicle to push the Conservative Party to the right, or else, and also they surely want to be the new dominant small-c conservative party, like Reform was in the 1990s. Putting it another way, when Bernier attacked Trudeau, it wasn’t too many Liberal votes they were swiping.

Look, the PPC is probably not going to win a seat save for the utter collapse of the Conservative Party as a viable entity. Bernier did not come close to winning Beauce, a riding he won four times as a Tory by landslide proportions. What hope do they have in other places? Even in ridings that were theoretically more agreeable in the Prairies and Alberta, they took in respectable totals as a minor party but finished well behind and didn’t sniff a single seat.

The PPC is a protest party that will not sit in government, if they sit in the House of Commons at all. Yet, if what they wanted was to stick it to the CPC early and often for going “soft,” they succeeded, at least to some degree. The problem is that it’s hard to see Trump-style politics catching on in Canada, at least not any time soon, so that electoral breakthrough might not be coming.

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Canadian Elections

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